Is it cool to bring the ’90s back yet? The songs featured in this week’s edition of New Noise sure seem to suggest that it is. With the rise of computer-generated technology in producing music, hearing tunes that use actual instruments has become rare in today’s mainstream hip-hop scene.
From the solemn piano in Mistah F.A.B. and Nerina Pallot’s new tracks to the sharp, acoustic guitar on Wale’s latest, this week’s spotlighted songs call back to the good old days of ’90s hip hop and R&B. Whether it’s the legendary Original Regulator Warren G making a production appearance or the mad talent of Gerson & Tristan bringing back the smooth hip-hop beats of the early ’90s, the styles of the old are resurrected and refined. There’s even a CeCe Peniston cover featured, so enough said.
Mistah F.A.B.: “Dreams”
Missing the mid-’90s? This song is likely to take you back. Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. is one of the kings of freestyle, known for taking on numerous rappers and being able to freestyle for insane amounts of time. Part of the Bay Area hip-hop talent, Mistah F.A.B. is releasing his third mixtape in his “Backpack” series later on this year, and “Dreams” is the first leak from the edition. With its heavy bass and dreamy (see what I did there?) ascending piano, the song sounds like a throwback R&B song. Lyrically, Mistah F.A.B. does not disappoint, delivering introspective rhymes with his trademark effortless emceeing. The song is produced by the one and only Warren G, who makes a good decision putting Mistah F.A.B.’s vocals in the forefront. If there’s any weakness in the song, it would probably be the chorus — the constant whispering of “dream” in the background is a little too obvious and ends up sounding slightly cheesy. Otherwise, the simple production works for the track and the piano is a nice touch for atmosphere. Any time there’s piano in a rap song, you know that it’s legit — this is what happens when regulators get serious.
Gerson & Tristan: “Night Life”
There’s stoner rock, but is there such a genre as stoner rap? (Or is that a little redundant?) Gerson & Tristan are set to release its first EP sometime this year, and the group’s latest single solidifies the leftfield vibe that it’s been honing to perfection. In “Night Life,” the Richmond Hill duo spits smooth flows alongside a steady, pure hip-hop beat that takes its time. The staccato raps blend well against the silky production of the track; both emcees drop their rhymes as if each word of theirs was walking over a fire pit, jumping up at every burning coal it touched.
That style, showcased over the glossy, laidback beat, makes for a compelling combination that takes the listener on a gravity-defying audio experience. Produced by MutaBeatz, “Night Life” is the length of an epic punk song (i.e. just under three minutes), and even though the chilled track fronts as if it has all the time in the world, it leaves the listener wanting more of the velvet beats and sleek style of the talented twosome.
Wale featuring Tiara Thomas: “Bad”
D.C. rapper Wale emerged onto the rap scene in 2005 as a unique and mega-talented emcee who stood out from the rest of the vocalists in the mainstream hip-hop scene. His 2009 album, Attention Deficit, was one of the best of the year, being nearly flawless as a whole.
Then, in 2011, he sold his soul to Rick Ross and released the aptly titled Ambition, which had maybe two good tracks on it — the rest were all bawse’d out, and Wale lost all of the uniqueness that made him different in the first place, becoming just another Maybach clone.
His new album, Bad, is scheduled to be released sometime this year, and if “Bad” is any example of what we can expect from him, it’s something to look forward to, only because it doesn’t sound like Rick Ross hijacked the album.
Aside from a borderline-annoying, squeaky metronome in the background, the song is produced with no frills or extras. Drums, bass, acoustic guitar and vocals — “Bad” is more of a return to Wale’s original style, where he used actual instruments to back his songs instead of the Maybach machine. The chorus is headed by the talented Tiara Thomas, who is becoming a staple of the Wale team, and her sharply scuffed vocals are perfect for the Kelson-produced track about relationships gone “Bad.”
Nerina Pallot: “Finally”
Veteran singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot is releasing her Lonely Valentine Club EP this week, and one of the five tracks on the record is “Finally,” a cover of the uber-famous 1991 CeCe Peniston song. Peniston’s original is one of the most famous dance songs ever and, though other covers have been recorded, Pallot’s version is downright amazing.
The Brit’s strong yet melancholy vocals take complete control over the track and change the entire vibe of the song. All the words that you would never use to describe the original — haunting, sorrowful, profound, arcane — are the only words that define Pallot’s adaptation. All of a sudden, hearing the words “Finally, it’s happened to me” doesn’t make you want to bust out your best dance moves, but instead makes you a little worried about what exactly has finally happened to you.
With the sparse production and woeful piano (see, pianos make everything serious), Pallot makes “Finally” sound like a deep and wonderfully reflective hymn about self-discovery, and the steadiness of her vocals bring a tranquility to the still seriousness of the track. Pallot truly owns the song and illustrates how to properly do a cover. Listen and learn, kids.
Rishbha Bhagi is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in communication management. Her column “New Noise” runs Wednesday.